Monday, December 26, 2011

Where Masterpieces are Made

The two most import areas of my house are the places where I write and cook. They aren’t the most tidy spots – something I chalk up to us disorganized creative types.

I know I drive Mr. Clean bonkers and I appreciate that he cleans the house and does the laundry in exchange for my cooking services, but he needs to accept that I’m a lost cause, right?

After a weekend with my friend “Mrs. Ultra Uber Clean” I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.

We spent an ‘International Christmas’ on Orcas Island (one of the loveliest since leaving home) with our wonderful island friends. Between the four of us we represented Australia, New Zealand, France and, ahem, Alaska. Not to mention our U.K. babies: A Staffy and a Westie.

Shan inspired me to stop being such a slob.

On Christmas morning she was up emptying the fridge of all opened wine bottles. She whipped out a mini handheld vacuum and started sucking up loose tea leaves that’d spilled in the pantry drawer. (As I slouched over the table with a piece of toast and water treating a hangover.)

For Christmas lunch she chose to make Tal Ronnen’s Grilled Shiitake Mushrooms with Polenta, Roasted Japanese Eggplant, and Smoked-Paprika Crème from The ConsciousCook: A major production that didn’t end till 2.

There’s nothing I love more than group cooking while sharing amusing stories and having a laugh. (I could have gone without the hangover and barfing, but we can’t have it all.)

(Note: I’m not much of a drinker these days, but I finished writing a new YA novel Christmas Eve morn. and celebrated with a bottle of champagne that obviously didn’t sit right.)

As I finished pureeing the smoked-paprika crème, Shan said, “We’ll clean as we go.”

Clean as we go? What a novel idea.

This didn’t just apply to dirtied pots, pans and measuring cups, but all clutter.

My bottle of ginger ale didn’t last 20 minutes on the kitchen counter before Shan emptied the last of it in my glass and tossed the bottle.

A bag of chips got chucked as I yelled, “Noooooo!” Too late. (It was still half full.) Shan’s answer, “I don’t keep junk food around.”

I set down a bowl of veggie salad I was snacking on only to have the remainder of the contents tossed in the bin and bowl stashed in the dishwasher.

I’ve never seen anything like this before. So yeah, it might be overboard, but that’s why it made a lasting impression. This morning I chucked an opened bottle of Schweppes my brother left in the fridge back in September. I removed the moldy carrots, beets and baseball hard limes from the bottom fridge drawer. I yanked my dead flower bouquet from the vase and tossed them off the balcony. When I spilled on the countertop I wiped it up right away rather than leave it for days and have to scrape at the dry crusty stain.

I’m on a roll. It feels liberating. It feels clean. And it’ll probably only last a couple weeks.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Author Interview at Chick Lit Goddess

The wonderful and talented Isabella Louise Anderson interviewed me on her blog: Chick Lit Goddess.

I was honored to be asked and had a blast answering her fabulous questions. Check it out.

Love in Dystopian Fiction

This one’s for Keary Taylor, Orcas Island author extraordinaire!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Envious Author

“It is so hard to know what to say to friends who are struggling with their writing when yours is going well. I learned to play down my success, which I don’t think anyone should have to do.” 
– B. J. Daniels (Twelve-Gauge Guardian)

Heck no, girlfriend!

The timing of Janet Tronstad’s article “Secrets of Professional Jealousy” (Romance Writers Report, December 2011) was spot on. That same day I popped over to YA author Keary Taylor’s blog and read that film rights had been acquired to her dystopian thriller Eden.

I also received an email from online author friend, Kira Saito, sharing with me that her recently self-published novel, Bound, was on the bestseller list on amazon Kindle for children’s.

(Congratulations to both ladies!)

That odd mix of excitement and envy started swirling inside me and I turned back to Tronstad’s article to find a comment by Lenora Worth (The Doctor’s Family) that resonated with me:

“I’ve had spurts of professional jealousy, but this is how I decided to handle it. I have what I call professional envy. Envy is blue: you’re happy for your friend but a bit sad for yourself. But professional envy only makes me want to work harder, so envy is not a bad thing if it drives you to keep trying.”

That is what Keary and Kira have done for me. It is the success stories – the authors who make it – that drive me forward. There’s a certain thrill, especially when you “know” writers who are making it.

As Keary Taylor said (in regards to the movie deal): “This is pretty exciting, especially considering that I am a self-published author who was told “no” by more than 100 literary agents between all my books.” 

I am totally excited for her and not at all jealous. 

Nope, not one bit.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Death by Chocolate: Novella Finished

How am I celebrating? With champagne and chocolate naturally.

Finishing my submission was no mean trick. I had to take a 62,000 word (and counting) novel and chop it down to 14,000 words (ended up with 17,500 – maybe my beta readers will have ideas for trimming or maybe it’ll just be a bit longer). This meant cutting characters, removing scenes and writing new scenes to make it all flow – like a molten chocolate river.

I always make the mistake of thinking, “Novella? No problem!” But novellas require the same character development, story arcs and tidy endings.  

I am excited about this anthology and swapping stories with my writing buddy, Kira Saito, whose eBook Bound is currently a bestseller on Kindle. I look forward to reading all the stories to be included in this lip-smacking collection of YA paranormal romance.

I like my stories dark and delicious.

The anthology goes live for Kindle and other eReaders (can you tell what my preference is?) on Valentine’s Day 2012.

It looks like we’ll sell it for $2.99, but keep an eye out for giveaways!  

Monday, December 12, 2011

I love Spike!

Totally completely love Spike.

Check out my latest post at YA Stands (Move Over Mr. Moody Broody) about crafting lovable bad boys.

I started writing YA novels as a way to cope with Spike withdrawals after watching the complete Buffy: The Vampire Slayer series at the beginning of the year. (Finished 7 seasons in 3 weeks - that must be a record.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nostalgic Much?

It happens this time of year – nostalgia.

This Thanksgiving Thursday at YA Stands I blogged about my all-time favorite classic, Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery. I’m also a diehard fan of the televised mini-series. It’s a tossup between that and Pride & Prejudice.

Let’s call it a tie and give thanks for love stories that persist through the ages.

(Post goes live November 24. Happy Holiday!)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Seize the Moment

The next time you have 10 minutes before you need to leave home or are waiting on your soup to simmer, see how much you can write in that brief time slot.

If you’re like me, you usually wouldn’t bother trying to do anything productive towards your novel in such a measly amount of time. You’d tweet or browse the World Wide Web; snack or stare off into space.

But you know the old adage: Every little bit adds up. Give it a go and make ‘a hundred here, a hundred there’ your new mantra. Pretty soon it will add up to thousands of words and hundreds of pages. 

NaNoWriMo Update: 11,670 words (four days behind). My mom’s in town and I’m making time with her a priority especially after losing my grandmother early Monday. Mom's birthday is Saturday so Seb, Cosmo and I are off to spend it with family on neighboring Orcas Island. I do plan a WriMo revival at some point this month.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Blogging Alternate Thursdays at YA Stands

I joined Nicole and Co. and their wonderful young adult blog YA Stands.

I’m covering my favorite subject: Love & Romance.

Alternate Thursdays – starting today with The Bermuda Love Triangle.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Book of The Dead

I teamed up with five lady authors to write a YA paranormal romance novelette for an anthology we’re putting together: Death by Chocolate. (Being released Valentine’s Day 2012, free on Amazon Kindle.)

As I was writing my blurb for the book, it struck me that a lot of my stories center on death.

In my last completed historical romance the hero’s fiancé becomes engaged to another man when everyone believes Ethan to have perished in the wilds of America – which he nearly did.

The last historical I started involves a young woman people call The Black Widow because her husbands keep dying on her.

Aurora Sky dies in a car crash and is brought back to life as a vampire assassin in my YA novel Aurora Sky: Transfusion.

And now, in my latest YA WIP, Graylee Perez is a witch who dies and is brought back to life.

Looking back I noticed these projects were all started or written within the last three years, which is about the time I became hyper aware that our time here is limited.

It’s not a morbid obsession, but one that’s made me more productive and appreciative of life. I also find myself more aware that the people around me are on the same countdown and that’s been the hardest part to accept. 

I like that Halloween began as a day of honoring the dead. For all its commercialization, I see it as a family day: parents taking their kids to carnivals and trick-or-treating, watching scary movies with loved ones, getting in costume and going out with friends or significant others to dance the night away. I see it as a break from the routine. A moment. A snapshot. A time to celebrate this wonderful thing called life.

May the magic be with you.

Twas the Night Before WriMo

Down to the final hours before NaNoWriMo.

Good luck to my sister WriMos!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Snack Attack

I’ve got candy on the brain and it’s not just because Halloween’s coming up. An even more frightening phenomenon follows on the coattails of doomsday: NaNoWriMo.

In the past I've used this month as an excuse to load up on candy, snack every 20 minutes and imbibe on wine. This year I want to give myself an advantage by chomping down on brain food – the kind of stuff that powers me through pages without the consequent crash, burn and tummy ache.

I’ve already started building up a stash for next week: dry roasted pumpkin seeds, dried apples, raw buckwheat snacks, dates, carob & goji berry bites, walnuts and frozen fruits for smoothies.

If I have the time I’ll make up my own snacks and freeze them: sesame bon-bons and date bars. My two quickie all-time favorite munchables are ants on a log and popcorn with a dusting of nutritional yeast.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Twilight Country

Just returned from an impromptu four day getaway in the Olympic Peninsula. The trip was a bit of a bust due to poor planning, crap weather and time constraints, but mostly because of all the No Dogs allowed signs at trail heads.

For the Full Report please check out my kick-off post at Death By Chocolate where I’ve teamed up with five talented authors to put together a YA paranormal anthology filled with romance, death, magic and chocolately goodness.

Release Date: Valentine’s Day 2012

Price: FREE

A four hour drive for this view in La Push, “Land of Jacob”. 

At least it wasn’t raining. (Our consolation beach.)
Banned from the trails, we take to the beach.

Seb wondering why he let Nikki plan this trip.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Baker’s Dozen: My Favorite Bread Recipes

I made an executive decision to add flavor by reformulating this site as a food and fiction blog: Salt ‘n’ Paper. It combines my love of cooking and writing; eating and reading. (Notice I take equal pleasure in active prep time and enjoying the results of said labors.)

Out of a buffet of ideas, it came to me to begin with my favorite of the food groups: Bread. 

Chef’s Note: My food photography skills “knead” smoothing out. Two of these shots are taken from the pages of The Joy of Vegan Baking.

1.  Potato Bread with Chives, Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson p. 471

2.  Banana-Split Tea Bread, (chocolate, cherries, pineapple and peanuts – who needs whipped cream?) Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson p. 473

3.  Classic Focaccia with Rosemary, Olive Oil, and Coarse Salt, The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein p. 191

4.  Maple-Almond French Toast, The 30 Minute Vegan by Mark Reinfeld and Jennifer Murray p. 71 (Not really a bread recipe, but one of my favorite ways to enjoy bread in the morning.)

5.  Mediterranean Olive Bread, The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau p. 58 (With a name like “Joy of Baking” you know there’s going to be a lot – see below.)

6.  Naan, Joy of by CPG p. 168

7.  Soft Pretzels, Joy of by CPG p. 174

8.  Cinnamon Rolls, Joy of by CPG p. 175

9.  Monkey Bread, Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau p. 203

10.  Home-Style Potato Rolls, Veganomicon by p.218

11.  Baking Powder Biscuits, Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz p. 26

12.  Butternut Squash Rolls, The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash (Out of print. I veganized these borrowing a book from Ecology Action’s library during my 3 months internship in Willits, Calif.) 

Pictured (From top to bottom): Cinnamon Rolls, Mediterranean Olive Bread, Banana-Split Tea Bread (made and enjoyed this morning).

Monday, October 3, 2011

But Wait… It Gets Better

When it comes to the crucial opening pages of a story, not only have I committed every no-no in the book, I continue to commit them. In other words: I suck at starting novels.

Among my worst offenses:

The Preface – avoid at all costs! I inwardly groan when I catch sight of one. So why do I keep writing them?

Backstory – never, never, never in the opening chapter and yet there I go explaining away.

Introducing too many characters. A writing instructor counted 13 cameos within the first THREE pages of my historical novel.

Telling not showing. How novice! (And boring.)

Aurora Sky has the highest volume of violence, action and humor of any book I’ve ever written. And how does it begin? Snore city – checking out her dream college with her mother. La dee da. She’s actually skipping in an earlier draft of the book.  

Not exactly a page turner. (At least I axed the original preface.)

This setup was employed with a specific purpose: Show the reader Aurora’s hopes and dreams right before ripping them away from her. Portray her as the obedient daughter and obliging friend in stark contrast to the hellion she becomes after she’s brought back to life and undergoes a traumatic initiation.

But it doesn’t matter what comes next if the reader never gets beyond the opening pages. I spent weeks stewing over this. There are plenty of action scenes I could draw on – the car accident that changes Aurora’s life for one, but that felt cheap in a ‘spring it on the reader’ sort of way.

I think I’ve found my compromise. In J.A. Konrath’s book on publishing he says Start With Action. I now begin Aurora Sky with a fight scene. It’s a bit of a teaser since it’s from a sequence that comes a bit later, but I did find a way to morph it into the final countdown leading to Aurora’s crash. It’s a much better fit for the overall tone of the story, which is dark and sarcastic. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Older, Wiser and Unpublished

Life's greatest gift: Meeting your soul mate and growing old together.

Today I turned 34.

For the first time I feel old. Old in the sense that I get injured easier and take longer to recover.

In attitude. I’m far less selfish, noticeably calmer, more accepting of my place in the world and life’s limitations.

Seb pointed out a gray patch of hair on my head this summer, confirmed by a friend when I tried to deny their existence. Later Seb said the sweetest thing. “I think it’s cute.”

“Gong gray? Getting old?”

“I think it’s cute that we’re growing old together. That makes me happy.”

People always assume I’m younger than I am. I’ve got the good genes. (Thank you, Grandma.)

So now that I’ve established that I’m older and wiser – or if not wiser, older anyway (and no offense to those older than me, I’m simply embracing the word right now – letting it roll off my tongue) – Now that I’ve established this, I feel qualified to offer advice to aspiring writers.

Don’t let life pass you by!

Get the words down and keep at it. A page a day, whatever it takes.

I spent far too many years talking about becoming an author.

I put effort into other forms of written communication and if you can manage both, brilliant, just make sure the novel doesn’t take a back seat.

And now the good news – a little birthday surprise that cheered me this morning. I have started getting published under my erotica nom de plume, Louise Harvey, and had my second short piece published today at Ravenous Romance.

That’s the other gem about getting older – I don’t embarrass as easily. You heard me. I write sex stories.

 Happy Unbirthday and Write On! 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Season of the Writer

This morning I woke up to a beautiful sound: Rain.

I write really well when it’s raining.

I’ve never been able to write in the summer. I think it must be due to my Alaskan upbringing where it is ingrained in you that pleasant weather comes in such a short window that you must leap through it and take in everything you can, like a bear storing up for hibernation.

I’ve got a glorious feeling– like Gene Kelly, only I’m writing in the rain.

When do you write best?

Image from Storage Geek.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Goal Setting

Now that we’re back from visiting long time Alaska friends in St. Louis, it’s time to get serious about goal setting and achieving.

I’m a great goal setter. I can set goals all day long. Follow through, that’s another matter.

I like multi-tasking goals. Why have one goal when you can have multiple? They almost always come down to three things: Write more, eat healthier and save/make more money. And they’re all connected, in a way – like pillars supporting an arch.

Eating healthier means better brain power, which leads to better output and usually means cutting out restaurant expenses and packaged goodies and, hopefully, money coming in from additional production.
Money is the key to becoming homeowners again, having property, a fruit orchard and vegetable garden. It’s security. It’s freedom. It’s time.

Always, I’m wishing for more time with my boys.

So, now that we’re back home, I’ve laid out my goals and it’s time to see them through. I have our weekly menu planned using new cookbooks from my favorite authors: Appetite For Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Color Me Vegan by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. The first book offers fast, filling and low fat recipes. I tried a couple before we left. Not the usual sugared and fried goodness from Isa, but I’ll adapt. Color Me V offers up antioxidant-rich, fiber-packed, color-intense meals. I have red, white, green and orange meals planned.

On the work front, I’m purple all the way and picking up my first order this morning.

On the writing front, I’m spending way too long hemming and hawing on which project to pick up. Do I edit Aurora Sky? (The opening scene needs a complete overhaul.) Do I finish where I left off (half-way in the middle) on a medieval romance novel? Do I write more short erotic pieces? Do I edit one of my historical romances and try to sell it? Do I outline my second Aurora Sky novel and get to work on it? Maybe I should sell or publish Book One first. Or should I start an entirely new novel?

I think it’s time to edit – an art in itself. I won’t have anything to sell if I keep piling up manuscripts without the final touch ups.

Red pen out, time for a bit of slash and dash on Aurora Sky. The ink marks will match the soup I’m making. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Behind the Times

I’ve always been behind on my pulp culture. Maybe it’s because we rarely watched TV growing up. I’ve (almost) always preferred books to TV and felt like I was born in the wrong time period. I’m constantly time traveling in my mind to earlier centuries.

Eventually I catch up and there are benefits – getting to watch back-to-back episodes of Friends without grueling waiting periods between seasons.

This year I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer convinced it would be the cheesiest series I’d ever clapped eyes on, but unwittingly I found myself sucked in and out of my mind when the show ended.

Which is how my Aurora Sky vampire series was born. I needed more Buffy. More snarky dialogue, dark humor and steamy byplay between a slayer and the vampire she’s incapable of killing. I wanted a girl who could kick ass, no need for a bad boy to save the day. The only saving she required was on the emotional level.

But vampires in 2011? That is so overdone and passé, right?

I wasn’t too concerned. Less than a year ago I was rolling my eyes at the vampire craze. I attended the Emerald City Romance Writer’s Conference last October where top agents and editors from New York declared that this was no passing phase.

Vampires are here to stay.

While I take industry experts on their word – the undead won’t die – I’m also aware of the shift towards werewolves and shape shifters. (Not to mention dystopian, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic.) When I think of a werewolf, I think ‘hairy’ not ‘hot’. (Except, of course, for Scott Speedman in Underworld.)

As the temptation to begin uttering, “I just don’t get it” nags on my tongue, I have to remind myself of the vampire.

I’ll get it eventually. It’ll just take me a few years longer than everyone else.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Day Job

“While one is learning one’s craft, then practicing it and hunting for an agent, then waiting for mail with the agent’s return address, one must somehow make a living. Every writer hopes, like a medieval Christian, that after his period of honorable suffering, bliss will follow as a reward. So the writer takes some miserable part-time job, or lives off his parents or spouse, and writes and prays and waits. One day, the writer tells himself, the big break will come, and his money troubles will be over.”
-         -  On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner
This is the lavender that’s grown on the island. We distill the oil and handcraft everything on San Juan. 

I have not written in eight weeks. This is a crime! A shame! When I counted back the weeks on my calendar I was horrified. I’m a writer. I write! I was knocking out 20 pages on good days. 

This eight week lapse correlated with a specific event – the start of a new job.

I swore I’d never return to retail customer service after growing up in my family’s Alaskan souvenir business… until I found myself laid off and in need of another position pronto.

The timing of the local lavender farm/shop’s ad was serendipitous, not to mention I was already a fan of the home, body and culinary line all grown organically and handcrafted on the island.

Working in the store turned out to be fun. I’ve met countless friendly (and well-behaved) visitors and made add-on sales – the most satisfying kind.

And on the subject of work, I've had to fill in for a flighty co-worker this Labor Day weekend. 
Off I go!

Maybe it’s my age (34 this month) that’s given me the confidence to approach and converse with strangers that I was lacking in my 20s. One fact remains, however. I’m an introvert and dealing with people all day sucks the life force out of me.

I remember my first writing professor, Richard Chiappone, Water of an Undetermined Depth, express the importance of the dull day job in not hampering the creative spirit. I left my job as an editorial assistant/reporter at The Anchorage Daily News when I realized I was starting to lose my joy of writing.

Being a journalist and writing fiction conflicted for me personally. No, I’m no longer using my degree, and it comes up in nearly every interview, but I’ve found somewhat of a happy balance between earning a living and pursuing my dream.

Do I fantasize about writing full time? Every day!

Photo credits: Brandy Mills, 2011.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Never Cry Writer

As most writers are painfully aware this is a path full of false starts and crushed hopes, but still we charge forth because we’re passionate about what we do. Nothing – and I mean nothing – can stop us from trying as long as it takes to get our stories out to the reading public.

Being writers of fiction, it’s all too easy to create our own fantasy world in which we are famous, best-selling mega stars. The dream is just around the corner. At least in our hearts. Trouble is the people closest to us begin to tune out all those glorious proclamations about making it big. My husband’s heard it a hundred times before.

                                         Praying for publication to the Incan Gods during a writer’s retreat in Belize.

Belize, Fall 2003

A call from the house phone at Francis Ford Coppola’s Blancaneaux Lodge located deep in the jungle. I am part of a weeklong writer’s retreat put on by lit mag Zoetrope: All-Story.

Nikki: Seb! I did it! I feakin’ did it!

Seb: What?

Nikki: The editor of Zoetrope loved my story and wants to publish it in the magazine. I made it! I’m going to be a published author. Finally!

Seb: That’s great.

Nikki: See. It was all worth it.

Conclusion: Never heard a word back. When I contacted the editor she said a) the rest of the staff wasn’t as enthusiastic about the piece as she was and b) she was no longer the magazine’s editor.

Sometime in 2005

Nikki: Seb, I’ve got it! I’m going to make it big. BIG I tell you.

Seb: Uh-huh, like I haven’t heard that before.

Nikki: But you don’t understand… I’m writing romance. I’ve got a real shot here. Over 50 percent of the market is romance and it’s what I was born to write. I don’t know why I didn’t realize it sooner. All those day dreams I made up when I was younger. Sneaking regencies inside my mother’s shopping cart. Loving Jane Austen…
                                         Dining table/desk where I completed two historical romance novels during the 15 months we lived in Central Oregon.

November 2009 – March 2010

After finishing my third historical romance novel.

Nikki: This is ‘The One’.

Seb: I thought the last one you wrote was the one.

Nikki: No, that one wasn’t good enough. Mark my words. This is ‘The One’.

Seb: You keep saying that. I don’t believe you anymore.

Nikki: How are you going to feel when I’m a best-selling author and you talked to me this way?

Seb: We’ll see then.

Nikki: You’re not being supportive.

Seb: (Getting angry.) I’ve supported you this past year while you stayed at home not working.

Nikki: I was working.

Seb: Making money.

Nikki: (Sniff.) Fine. I’m not ever talking to you about my writing again.

                                         The gray days in the Pacific Northwest makes for cozy writing weather.

January 2011

Nikki: I’m going to earn extra income writing erotica.

Seb: Where have I heard that before?

Nikki: But this is erotica. Erotica pays and I can use the money to support my other writing projects.

Seb: Yeah. Um, hmm.

May 2011

Nikki: I know I never said I’d write a vampire novel, but I came up with this idea for a YA vampire series 
and I’m really excited about it.

Seb: What happened to erotica?

Nikki: I’ll still write erotica and historical romance, but this vampire series is going to be what makes my career.

(Seb ignores me.)

Nikki: Seb, are you listening?

Seb: Yeah, Nikki. I’m sick of hearing about this. You were going to be published five years ago. I don’t believe you anymore.

Nikki: But Seb, it’s a young adult vampire novel. I’m telling you, this is going to be made into a movie. Seb?